Leon Bridges’ “Conversion”

Aarik Danielsen

God help us, sometimes our salvation turns stagnant.

The decisive event of the Christian life, the salvation secured through Jesus transfers us from darkness to light, isolation to spiritual family, self-satisfaction to great purpose. And yet the corrosive nature of sin, the weight of the world, and the chiseling effect of everyday life conspire to deprive us of joy and fulfillment. On our best days, we can take salvation for granted; on our worst, it feels distant, like something that happened in another lifetime.

Leon Bridges steals back some wonder on “Conversion,” the closing track from the new Texas Sun EP, which pairs him with the psych-funk trio—and fellow Texans—Khruangbin. (Bridges hails from Fort Worth, while Khruangbin calls Houston home.) Oft-compared to Sam Cooke, Bridges conveys a wealth of emotion while exercising impressive vocal command. His voice glides over musical waters Khruangbin is pleased to trouble—their intense grooves and willingness to introduce darker chords add risk and weight to Bridges’ silky soul music.

The project’s first three tracks traffic in another sort of salvation, the sort Bruce Springsteen has been singing about all these years. The opening title track especially lays Bridges’ fate at the feet of a girl and promise of the open road. “Caressing you from Fort Worth to Amarillo / Well, come on, roll with me ‘til the sun dips low,” he sings over the Southwestern gait of Mark Speer’s guitar, his very voice like a caress.

By the time we reach “Conversion,” Bridges and Khruangbin have honed in on a slow, sweltering sort of R&B which owes debts to its forerunners yet sounds new enough to provide refreshment. The record’s conclusion finds its personality in a cratered groove and dark, hot guitar sounds. Bridges balances calm and ecstasy as he swims in a stream-of-consciousness description of salvation, not unlike one of the Apostle Paul’s exulting run-on sentences.

Disciples seeking a biblical survey of salvation could do much worse than Bridges’ lyrics here. He begins by singing of how God’s love “poured into [his] heart,” then evokes Ezekiel 36 with the line “Holy Spirit penetrated my stone.” Bridges follows this, uniting the image of piercing nails with a transmission of righteousness and a taste-and-see testimony to God’s goodness.

Bridges balances calm and ecstasy as he swims in a stream-of-consciousness description of salvation.

As he carries on, Bridges invokes the tale of the prodigal son (“I spit out the slop I was eatin’ on / Always left me dry”) and Ezekiel’s dry-bones revival service (“My bones have been made alive / From you breathing inside”). If that weren’t enough, he whisks us back to the Damascus road and perhaps the most dramatic conversion story in Scripture:

“I’m not the same man that I was
You stepped in and changed my heart
Now I’m walking the narrow road
Moved the scales from my eyes
Transformed my soul.”

High-minded theologians might ding Bridges for failing to connect the dots between these stories and statements, but there’s something rapturous in his rambling account. Recovering the beauty of our salvation is rarely a linear experience. Through a moment, circumstance or well-timed word, God opens a gate in our hearts that his goodness roars and rushes through like water. Bridges has little need of a perfectly constructed testimony. Rather, he is overcome by the eternal yet personal goodness of God, and wants to squeeze as much of the story in as possible.

The music twists and turns with Bridges’ spiritual accounting—especially beautiful is the rippling gospel piano which sits in the back of the mix. Before Bridges takes the newly sighted Paul by the hand, he fits in a few stanzas of the classic Isaac Watts-Ralph Hudson hymn “At the Cross.” The music isn’t as boisterous as you might hear in a Baptist service, as Khruangbin follows the path it has carved throughout the record, carrying Bridges’ confession on minor currents.

That strange unity reminds us that, even as we recall the goodness of God, our feelings might not match the words we mouth. It is impossible to live perpetually atop a spiritual peak. But, at every turn, Bridges sounds like a man who knows where to quench his thirst. And the power of his soul’s quietly confident cry shouldn’t be lost on any listener. His words form a sermon reminding us that God has been and ever will be faithful. Even when the joy of our salvation feels far off, God is not—his work throughout history, and in the words of specific souls, encourage us to keep the faith and find blessed assurance there.

Topics: Music